[OPE-L:2262] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Fri, 17 May 1996 12:37:11 -0700

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A short comment, for clarity's sake, on the exchange between Fred and Alan.

Fred concludes:

>4. WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? For Alan, if the commodity is taken to be
>the product of capitalist production, then Marx is guilty of "assuming what
>is to be proved." "What is to be proved" is evidently that "surplus-value
>can arise only on the basis of labor-power," i.e. that no other form of
>labor produces surplus-value. Thus, Alan agrees with Gil on this point:
>Marx is trying to argue in Chapters 5 and 6 that labor-power is the only
>source of surplus-value. They disagree of course (strongly) about whether
>or not Marx succeeded in this attempt.

I do not say, have never said, that "Marx is trying to argue in Chapters 5
and 6 that labor-power is the only source of surplus-value." Indeed, I have
said repeatedly that it's not necessary to "argue" this claim since it
follows from Marx's definition of surplus value as valorization rather than
mere redistribution of value. Since value is measured in terms of labor
time expended in production, and labor is the use value of labor power, it
follows from the definition that "labor power is the only source of

I have argued something much more specific: that Marx is attempting to
demonstrate that **purchase of the commodity labor power (i.e., wage labor)
and its consumption within capitalist production** is the necessary basis of
surplus value within the capitalist mode of production (noting that I see
Marx making a distinction between capitalist mode of production and
capitalist production, a conclusion I realize is still under discussion).

To illustrate my point , consider Marx's discussion in Ch. 6 to his
treatments of merchant's capital in Ch. 20 and usury capital in Ch. 36 of
Volume III. In both of he latter cases capitalists enjoy the use value of
labor power, but *do not* do so by purchasing labor power as a commodity.

>I argue, to the contrary, that this is not what Marx was trying to prove in
>Chapters 5 and 6. This was not Marx's question. As I argued in a recent
>response to Gil, what Marx was trying to prove is that WITHIN CAPITALIST
>PRODUCTION (which is assumed from the beginning), labor-power is the only
>possible source of surplus-value, i.e. that labor-power is the necessary
>condition for the existence of surplus-value in capitalism.

Actually, this is not what Fred argued in that post. He said rather that
within capitalist production, **wage labor** is the only possible source of
surplus-value. This, unlike the preceding claim, is not tautologically
true, and it certainly can't be proven true on value-theoretic grounds, and
even more certainly can't be established on aggregative value-theoretic
grounds. The problem here is that wage labor--the purchase of labor power
*as a commodity*--is not necessary for capitalist production as a matter of
logic, **even granting that surplus value requires the use of labor
power**--for the simple reason that capital can gain access to labor power
in other ways, e.g. through contracting for labor *services*, specifiable
transformations of inputs into commodities.

Now, as a historically contingent *strategic* matter, capitalists are often
limited to gaining access to the use value of labor power only through the
ungainly and indirect method of hiring the latter as a commodity--i.e. not
specifying exactly what they want done beforehand--but that's not an issue
that value theory, especially not defined at an aggregate level, is
competent to answer.

In solidarity, Gil